Matt Dick: Small Trade Company

Matt Dick: Small Trade Company
Mara Mckevitt

Many people interested in fashion follow a pretty common trajectory: fashion school, New York, working for a big line. But designer Matt Dick took a different path.

After attending Cal Arts, which at the time didn’t have a fashion program, Dick created his own major, combining sculpture, textiles and graphic design. He recalls, “I had to write a lot in my program because I wasn’t officially in a major, so I ended up in a thesis class making clothes. My whole thing was like, our clothing has become too rote and we can all get dressed in the dark. And everything’s so uninteresting and this shirt has two arms and these pants have two legs and, you know, what if that wasn’t the case? What would happen?”

Thinking about questions like these, he moved to Japan in 1997 to study with a fourth generation master Indigo-dyer north of Toyko. There, he learned to combine the futuristic, fashion-forward aspects of Japanese culture with the respect for ancient techniques. “I was fascinated with Japan early on because my father would go there on business and bring back toys and stuff — plastic, crazy colorful things with arms that would fly out at you. And it slowly grew my fascination with Japan. Japan has a really specific color palette.” When he returned to California, he launched his own brand, and helped open the famous Harputs Market, choosing to stay based in his hometown of San Francisco.

His personal style translates through to his work, as you can often find him wearing a plain white T-shirt with a kimono-like jacket or even a handmade skirt with effortless ease. On his style, he says, “I think there’s a lot of purity. We don’t really convolute with a lot of cutting or construction as far as the textile is concerned. It’s about the story of the people who came together to make it happen. Almost all the fabric has a great story behind it.”

A visit to his studio, Small Trade Company, exemplifies that he would never make something he wouldn’t personally own, with racks of Japanese-influenced garments that look comfortable enough to sleep in, yet chic enough to wear to dinner. Although known for his work with indigo, Dick also has a deep appreciation for leather and is typically covered in well-worn leather bracelets and necklaces. In his atelier, you will also find small leather goods such as bags and keychains, that incorporate his trademarks of Japanese denim and indigo dye.

These days, Dick also works as a consultant and creative director. “We develop products of our own. We develop projects with other people. I try to keep this space really without parameters. The team works on everything,” he says. Recently, he collaborated with Levi’s to develop more of the vintage aspect of the brand, and on their new LVC shop in downtown San Francisco. He has also made a interesting niche for himself creating uniforms for restaurants, including clients such as Blue Bottle Coffee, State Bird Provisions and Bar Agricole. His latest project is creating vintage-influenced uniforms for a fully re-furbished 1930s yacht.

If it seems like Dick is having fun with all of this, that’s because he is. Without compromising for the fashion industry at all, he has carved out a solid space where he gets to play and create what he wants. When asked how he wants people to feel that wear his creations he answers, “Confident and comfortable. Comfortable in their own skin. And also just happy.”